By Gene Kira, December 31, 2002, as published in Western Outdoor News:
Baja's fishing year 2002 was remarkable for several surprise moves by Mexico that seemed to indicate an increased emphasis on marine conservation and protection of endangered species by most branches of the government, with the notable exception the federal department of fisheries itself. Stunning actions by the federal government during 2002 included the sudden closing of the Revillagigedos Biosphere Reserve, the banning of gill nets at East Cape, the cancellation of Shark Norma 029, and the closing and subsequent limited reopening of the Alto Golfo Biosphere Reserve.
Other than that, it was pretty much an "average" fishing year for Baja, with the most notable standouts bites being the incredible year-long run of lingcod the likes of which has not been seen in living memory, from San Quintin to Ensenada, and--it must be said--a mind-boggling burst of huge yellowfin tuna that "just happened" to coincide with the wildly successful Western Outdoor News/Mercury Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot Tournament at Cabo San Lucas on Nov. 6-9.
Week-by-week, then, from the pages of Western Outdoor News, here is Baja's year 2002 in review:
Jan. 4: Cabo San Lucas got the year off to a good start with a hot striped marlin bite that saw most fleets averaging one to three fish per day on the Pacific side, but the rest of Baja was being hammered by winter winds and low water temperatures. At San Quintin, Beverly Hawley-Martin caught a 98-pound black seabass just inside the mouth of the bay while fishing with top local guide, Bear.
Jan. 11: Several winter yellowtail trips to the remote San Nicolas (Saquicismunde Cove) fish camp north of Loreto were announced by John Mestrin's Blue Water Tours. Using pangas from Arturo's Sportfishing, Pete Gray of the Let's Talk Hook Up radio show made a trip earlier and found excellent action on yellowtail along the south side of Punta Pulpito and at nearby Isla San Ildefonso. In Loreto, the Marine Park staff made another announcement of day use fees to be levied some time during the year. At Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, the winter sailfish bite went ballistic, with some boats hitting double-digits.
Jan. 18: Very small juvenile broadbill swordfish again showed up on the Ensenada fish market as the result of bycatch dumping by the local longline boats. Western Outdoor News published a list of Baja-based longline boats fishing heavily for marlin and broadbill bycatch inside the striped marlin core zone off southern Baja. These boats were authorized to fish under "experimental" shark fishing permits issued by Jeronimo Ramos of the federal department of fisheries.
Off Los Cabos, water temperatures as low as 70 degrees were recorded, the beginning of a cool water trend that would persist for much of the year.
Western Outdoor News announced the 2002 La Paz Yellowtail Shootout dates of May 1-5, at La Concha Beach Resort, with pangas provided by Mosquito Fleet.
Jan. 25: An unknown species very similar to an East Coast permit was caught in the mangroves about 10 miles north of San Carlos on Bahia Magdalena during an exploratory trip by Gary Graham of Baja On The Fly. Other species found in the area known as Devil's Curve included excellent catches of corvina, pompano, pargo, cabrilla, grouper, halibut, and snook.
Kayak fishing expert Dennis Spike made an exploratory trip to Puerto Santo Tomas with Trissy Cocolotta, finding excellent near shore action on lingcod to 7 pounds, many rockfish species, ocean whitefish to 5 pounds, and lots of calico bass. Spike subsequently scheduled several group trips to the area for his guiding operation, Coastal Kayak Fishing.
Feb. 1: In the beginning of a lingcod run of a lifetime for most Baja anglers, 25-pound lingcod were caught in good winter conditions at San Quintin. The lingcod run, from San Quintin to Ensenada, would continue through the end of the year and would prove to be the best in memory, even for old timers.
At Cabo San Lucas, an unusual blue marlin bite saw fish over 500 pounds caught, as local water temperatures were reported at 69 to 74 degrees.
The Cabo 2002 Conference featured the beginnings of an epic year for marine conservation in Mexico, as federal officials traveled to Baja California for meetings with local activists, lobbying groups, biologists, and state leaders.
Feb. 8: The U.S. Billfish Foundation and Mexico's Fundacion para la Conservacion de Picudos announced a working alliance to further the cause of marine conservation in Mexico. Billfish Foundation President Ellen Peel and fisheries biologist Russell Nelson made presentations in Cabo San Lucas to announce the alliance's goal: "To increase the profile of sport fishing and the need to maintain healthy billfish stocks in Mexico."
Feb. 15: A story by Ed Zieralski and photo by Bill Roecker recorded a 268-pound yellowfin tuna caught by 74-year-old Don Rolstad while fishing at Clarion Island aboard the Excel. Rolstad fought the tuna from a skiff for 6 hours, during which he was towed out of sight of the Excel.
North of Loreto, a good spring surface bite of quality yellowtail materialized around Punta Pulpito and Isla Ildefonso, and fish to 30 pounds were also caught closer to town.
Dennis Spike of Coastal Kayak Fishing took 22 anglers to Puerto Santo Tomas for excellent action on lingcod, large whitefish, rockcod, and calico bass.
Feb. 22: The IGFA approved an 80-pound (37-kilogram) line class record for Jim Dillon's monster dorado caught off Cabo San Lucas on July 31, 2001. The fish was originally weighed at 90 pounds and submitted for an all-tackle record, but problems with the scale used caused the IGFA to downgrade the official weight to 85 pounds, giving Dillon the 80-pound line class record. The all tackle dorado record stood at 88 pounds.
March 1: Western Outdoor News published a massive, quadruple issue for the Fred Hall Fishing Tackle and Boat Show scheduled in Long Beach on March 6-10. Bob Castellon of Sea of Cortez Sport Fishing announced the only trips to Bahia Magdalena by a San Felipe panga mothership in 2002. Castellon's boat, the Celia Angelina, was scheduled to travel to San Carlos in November for four week's of combination fishing in the mangroves and offshore on the Thetis Bank fall fish pile-up.
March 8: At Loreto, the winter yellowtail bite was in full swing, with fish near 50 pounds being caught north at Punta Pulpito and Isla Idlefonso, but the town was saddened by the sudden death of the well-known Alfred Ramirez of a heart attack on March 9. Alfredo's Sportfishing service was to be taken over by Ramirez' daughter, Linda.
Juanita Peterman of San Quintin's Rancho Cielito Lindo announced a free party on April 13 "as thanks to our friends and clients, to celebrate remodeling of the Cielito Lindo and the grand opening of Gypsy's Beach Camp." Motel rooms, RV sites, and camping were free for the weekend.
March 15: Pam Bolles of Loreto's Baja Big Fish Company released a photo of local angler, Arthur Clarke, with a 12-pound black snook caught at a secret location near town. Photographer Richard Herrmann returned from Bahia Magdalena with an photo essay showing the heavy gill netting going on in the mangrove channels. From San Quintin to Ensenada, the excellent lingcod bite continued with high counts of larger fish for most boats.
March 22: The 2002 Fred Hall Fishing Tackle and Boat Show came to Del Mar, and Western Outdoor News showed up with triple booth space. Heavy winter gill netting was reported along the coast of San Jose del Cabo, as East Cape was enjoying good early spring conditions, 73-degree water, and a good dorado bite, plus improving action on striped marlin. In a trend that would persist into the summer, yellowfin tuna were virtually absent.
March 29: The excellent 2002 lingcod bite was in full swing as Ensenada's Lily Fleet reported 32 lingcod caught by 4 anglers, but fishing was generally slow in most areas of Baja as water temperatures dipped close to their seasonal lows. Even at Cabo San Lucas, water temperatures were 65 to 70 degrees. At Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, the winter sailfish bite died as the annual spring current brought green water from shore outwards to 25 miles. Still, local boats were landing about 1 sailfish per day.
April 5: The Mexican federal government sent a shock wave through the Baja sport fishing community when it suddenly closed the Revillagigedo Islands Biosphere Reserve to all sport and commercial fishing. During a raid on March 18, the islands were effectively closed when agents of PROFEPA boarded the Red Rooster III and Shogun at Roca Partida. The fishing ban was protested by the Sportfishing Association of California, but would still be in effect at the end of the year.
April 12: In the uproar over the closing of the Revillagigedo Islands, Sportfishing Association of California attorney, Barnard Thompson, wrote an article calling Mexico's actions "unwarranted," and "a huge overreaction," citing historic agreements and permits that Thompson said allowed the San Diego long range boats to fish as close as 500 meters from the islands.
April 19: Warming spring water temperatures brought the first reports of the year for dorado at Loreto, and at the north end of Baja there was a good snap of yellowtail and barracuda. The northern lingcod bite kept getting better and better, as Ensenada's Sergio Susarrey of Sergio's Sportfishing Center said, "We've never seen so many lingcod...there have been days when more than a hundred were caught."
April 26: A virtual occupation of the La Paz office of the Mexican federal department of fisheries on April 16 resulted in the banning of gill nets from East Cape. The popular protest was organized by local hotel owners and Bobby Van Wormer Jr., Director of Tourism for Baja California Sur, and it was televised nationally. Due to public pressure, the department of fisheries was forced to change its policy of uncontrolled commercial fishing, and the nets were banned.
May 3: Western Outdoor News published the annual "Guide To Baja" special section full of information on fishing areas, resorts, tournaments, motherships, and special deals offered on fishing trips throughout the year. Three pages are devoted to the big WON/Mercury Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot tournament scheduled Nov. 6-9, and featuring the Ford truck drawing for all entrants if anybody catches a tuna weighing more than 220 pounds. The Camp & Champ combination camping/fishing trips to Bahia Magdalena are announced by Mag Bay Tours in conjunction with the 75-foot sportfisher Champ.
May 10: The season's first albacore were reported 115 miles from Point Loma on a heading of 195 degrees by the Relentless and Indian. An editorial and article datelined from Mexico City by Western Outdoor News Baja Editor Gene Kira described the Mexican federal government's apparent resolve to enforce not only the Revillagigedo Islands fishing closure, but also to enforce increased conservation measures in other areas.
May 17: A good snap of spring yellowtail showed up around the Coronado Islands, and Ensenada party boats were finding lots of yellowtail and early albacore 33 miles off Punta Banda on a heading of 135 degrees. A column by WON Baja Editor Gene Kira described a trip to Isla Socorro in the Revillagigedo Biosphere Reserve with Mexican Billfish Foundation President Julio Berdegué, and interviews with the navy detachment on the island.
May 23: Western Outdoor News Editor Bill Karr wrote about excellent spring conditions at Loreto, saying, "The Sea of Cortez around Loreto is as vibrant and full of life as this writer has seen in decades." Karr's trip with El Fuerte Sportfishing found plenty of yellowtail, water temperatures of 77 degrees, enormous bait schools, and all kinds of sea life in all areas. Early entrants began registering for the November WON/Mercury Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot Tournament, which was promising to be a record-setter. An early season small boat trip to Bahia Gonzaga by Craige Harvey landed a good mixed bag of fish, including firecracker yellowtail, large sierra, leopard grouper, triggerfish, spotted bay bass, goldspotted bass, hogfish, ribera cabrilla, and some that could not be stopped.
May 31: The prestigious Rolex/IGFA Offshore Championship Tournament was held at Cabo San Lucas on May 17-23, with 57 teams from more than 20 countries competing with circle hooks and releasing all billfish. The winning team, from Florida's New Smyrna Billfish Tournament, consisted of Frank Schaaf, William Holcomb, John Lloyd, Scott Laney, Daniel White, and Joe Pineiro. A column by WON Baja Editor Gene Kira described the possibility of new enforcement actions in the Alto Golfo Biosphere Reserve by the Mexican federal government, and a release of juvenile totoaba by the Autonomous University of Baja California in Ensenada.
June 7: The spring migration up the Sea of Cortez got into full swing with reports of dorado as far north as Mulege, and the emergence of a surface yellowtail bite on fish up to 40 pounds at Bahia de los Angeles. At the southern end of Baja, the season's first summer storm surge from distant Hurricane Alma shut down the La Playita panga fleets at San Jose del Cabo for four days. At East Cape, yellowfin tuna continued to be very hard to find.
June 14: The season's first Midriff dorado were reported by the San Felipe panga mothership Capt. Villegas, which found water as warm as 75 degrees at San Francisquito, Isla San Esteban, and the Enchanted Islands. Fifty-two dorado were reported caught, in addition to other species. Excellent catches of albacore were being found by the Ensenada party boat fleet.
June 21: Chilly water continued to plague Cabo San Lucas, but the East Cape area was enjoying good action on a wide range of species. Gary Graham of Baja On The Fly reported on an unusual run of bonefish on the estuary at La Ribera, and one of the best roosterfish seasons in memory was in full swing. The East Cape area launched nearly 500 charter boats for the week, also scoring on blue marlin, striped marlin, black marlin, sailfish, dorado, yellowfin tuna, pargo, snappers, wahoo, amberjack, pompano, cabrilla, and sierra.
June 28: The East Cape area continued to provide the best action around southern Baja as boats scored on a variety of species in very mixed water temperatures ranging from 70 to over 80 degrees. Excellent fishing developed off Ensenada for mixed albacore and yellowtail offshore, and excellent local catches of lingcod, yellowtail, bonito, barracuda, and bottom fish. At Cabo San Lucas, one of the largest striped marlin ever caught locally was reported by the Finatic on June 18. The fish was reported at 300 pounds.
July 5: WON held its biggest ever, annual Western Outdoor News/Yamaha Saltwater Rodeo at Ensenada's Hotel Coral and Marina, with 116 teams competing for $40,000 in prizes. A Yamaha 150-horsepower outboard motor was won by Ron Atwood of Long Beach in a drawing for all participants, and other prizes were won for the Bass Division, Halibut Division, Yellowtail Division, and Tuna Division. In the Midriff area, water temperatures reached 77 degrees, and the season's best catches were being made by private anglers and the four San Felipe panga motherships.
July 12: At Loreto, the dorado season broke wide-open with swarms of fish being caught in all areas. Local angler, Don Bear, reported "8 to 25-pound dorado everywhere." Two fly anglers released 20 dorado in a day. Most fish were still 10 to 30 pounds, but some 40 pounders were already being caught. Pam Bolles of Baja big Fish Company said, "There are more fish concentrated off Punta Lobos (northeast tip of Isla Carmen) than we've seen in years."
July 19: Western Outdoor News Editor Lew Carpenter reported on a trip to East Cape's Hotel Punta Colorada featuring good inshore fishing for pompano, roosterfish, barred pargo, amberjack, cubera snapper, and other species. The season's first yellowfin tuna showed up at San Quintin, as a good bite on yellowtail also continued. At San Felipe a mothership controversy emerged as booking agents Gordon Byrne and Tony Penaloza had disagreements with Gustavo Velez, owner of the Erik. By year's end, Byrne and Penaloza would become agents of another mothership, the Capt. Villegas, as that boat's agent, Jig Stop Tours, moved over to the Erik.
July 26: The midsummer Loreto dorado bite turned into a big fish fest as dorado over 40 pounds became common. Alex Rosas of Tijuana reported on four straight days of dorado limits to 47 pounds, and excellent bottom fishing as well on amberjack to 42 pounds, jack crevalle to 32 pounds, yellowtail to 52 pounds, and red snapper to 22 pounds. Another report had dorado going to 62 pounds, with larger fish concentrated south of town. Cabo San Lucas continued to struggle with low water temperatures, and the local bite at the Gordo Banks continued slow.
Aug. 2: Western Outdoor News Editorial Director Pat McDonell announced that the Outdoor Channel was scheduled to cover the WON/Mercury Tuna Jackpot Tournament at Cabo San Lucas in November. Four TV film crews were to cover the tournament and produce a videotape and television program to be broadcast nationally four times beginning in January. In southern Baja, yellowfin tuna finally made a belated appearance as 417 school-sized fish were reported by the Van Wormer Fleets in water temperatures ranging from 79 to 82 degrees.
Aug. 9: The first of three Bisbee's Baja Offshore Circuit tournaments was held in at the Hotel Palmas de Cortez in East Cape, with the other two events being at La Paz' La Concha Beach Resort on Sept. 11-14, and the Bisbee's Black and Blue Marlin Tournament at Cabo San Lucas on Oct. 15-19. Boats fishing out of John Ireland's Rancho Leonero won the two top prizes in the Bisbee's East Cape event. At Cabo San Lucas, the striped marlin bite finally notched upwards to about a fish per day, as water temperatures reached the mid-80s in some locations. From La Paz northwards to the Midriff, an excellent showing of very large Humboldt squid to 50 pounds and even larger emerged.
Aug. 16: Western Outdoor News published a 48-page special section on the WON/Mercury Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot Tournament with details and tips, and the number of entrants and sponsors pointed toward a record-breaking turn out. Dream Maker Charters of Cabo San Lucas reported a 205-pound yellowfin tuna landed, and other large fish began to show up between 100 and 200 pounds. Tournament co-director Kit McNear was quoted as saying prophetically: "It's starting to happen and it looks like we're getting into the season for the monster yellowfin, and best of all, if it keeps up, I'm confident that someone will catch that 220-pound plus fish that will kick in the insurance so we can give away that Ford F-150 Super Cab Truck in the drawing among all entrants."
Western Outdoor News Editor Bill Karr reported on a Midriff Islands trip aboard the San Felipe mothership Capt. Villegas with excellent results.
Aug. 23: Large yellowfin tuna were reported at Cabo San Lucas, including a 318 pounder caught by Dick Landfield of Fairway Ford, one of the sponsors of the WON/Mercury Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot Tournament. Landfield's giant tuna was reweighed on a calibrated digital scale after it first weighed out at 385 pounds on the regular Cabo dock scale. At San Quintin, limits of albacore were the rule for most boats, plus some bluefin tuna, dorado, and plenty of yellowtail. At Punta Banda, WON Baja Editor Gene Kira remembered the anniversary of former editor Fred Hoctor's passing away the previous July with a day of fishing with Ivan Villarino's Vonny's Fleet.
Aug. 30: At La Paz, the Mexican federal department of fisheries was dealt a severe blow when it was forced to promise an indefinite postponement of the the widely-scorned Shark Norma 029, which would have allowed longlining to within a kilometer of the Baja coast. The Shark Norma, ultimately killed by President Fox later in the year, had a real purpose of catching game fish commercially as bycatch under the guise of "experimental" fishing for shark. Also at La Paz, a run of very large roosterfish emerged as roosterfish expert Bill Mathias caught an estimated 124 pounder at Las Arenas.
Sept. 6: Keith Williams caught a huge 70-pound Humboldt squid while fishing near La Paz with Pirate's Fleet. It took him an hour and a half to land off Isla Espiritu Santo. At East Cape, water temperatures climbed into the high-80s and the level of sea life in the area increased dramatically as anglers scored on a very wide spectrum of fish both offshore and inshore. Limits of albacore and yellowtail continued at San Quintin, and at Loreto the dorado bite went beyond ballistic, as boats limited out early, and turned to catch-and-release.
Sept. 13: Mexican President Vicente Fox visited Los Cabos and confirmed the postponement and eventual redrafting of Shark Norma 029. During an interview at San Jose del Cabo, Fox promised the Shark Norma would not be published in its current form, after a nationwide protest erupted and the Mexican Senate voted unanimously against it. At Cabo San Lucas, many fleets began reporting yellowfin tuna over 200 pounds, and a very large blue marlin, an 850 pounder was reported by the Juanita VIII with Capt. Gil Abaroa. The big marlin was caught by Lou Dempsey of Rome, GA after a 3-hour fight on 50-pound tackle.
Sept. 20: Larger and larger yellowfin tuna were reported by Cabo San Lucas fleets as water temperatures approached 90 degrees, and another very large blue marlin was caught, a 700 pounder reported by Larry Edwards of Cortez Yacht Charters caught by the Ursula IV. At San Jose del Cabo, a rarely seen tripletail was caught from the beach by local guide Chame Pino.
Sept. 20: Another huge blue marlin, a 770 pounder was caught by the Solmar I, with Capt. Mario Arvallo. It was caught on 80-pound tackle by longtime Solmar Fleet anglers Rose Gobbel, husband Jay Gobbel, and brother George Rees, all from Tampa, FL. Many other large marlin over 300 pounds were being caught at Cabo, in addition to gorilla yellowfin tuna over 200 pounds.
Oct. 4: The second shoe dropped in Mexico's campaign to enforce fishing regulations in marine protected areas as PROFEPA and the Navy joined forces to close the Alto Golfo Biosphere Reserve to all commercial fishing. The most affected group were the large fleet of commercial shrimp trawlers that had been fishing inside the Biosphere Reserve with questionable permits issued by the Mexican department of fisheries, CONAPESCA.
Oct. 11: Early reports of the Thetis Bank fall fish pile-up were for marlin, dorado, and yellowfin tuna found about 15 to 30 miles outside the entrance to Bahia Magdalena. At the north end of the Sea of Cortez, the Mexican marine enforcement agency, Profepa, released figures indicating that at least one shrimp trawler confiscated in the Alto Golfo Biosphere Reserve closure had bycatch totaling more than 95 percent of its total catch, including protected totoaba.
Oct. 18: Shark Norma 029 was officially killed by the Mexican government after massive nationwide protests led by a grassroots movement in Baja California Sur. The cancellation was made official by a notice published in the government's Diario Oficial dated Oct. 11. At East Cape, big numbers of yellowfin tuna finally arrived as water temperatures averaged 87 to 90 degrees.
Oct. 25: A monster yellowfin tuna variously weighed at between 355 and 362 pounds was caught out of East Cape's Hotel Punta Colorada by Joseph Crosby and Gary Conway after a combined 2 hour 55 minute fight on the Ginebra with Capt. Juan Manuel Cota and mate Pedro Montano. Prize winners in the Bisbee's Black and Blue Marlin Tournament at Cabo San Lucas shared $1.6 million in cash payouts. The top cash prize of $400,320 went to the Rama II for a 408-pound blue marlin caught by Ray Novelli with Capt. Vigilio Labato of Cabo San Lucas.
Nov. 1: Fishing at the tip of Baja California was hampered by massive security restrictions because of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference held in the Los Cabos corridor. Economic leaders and heads of state from more than 21 nations met during a week of open and closed-door sessions focused primarily on how to keep international trade flowing smoothly in the face of terrorism. During the conference, a navy armada blockaded the Baja coastline between San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas, although boats were allowed to fish offshore. At East Cape, the Lynn Rose East Cape Classic had nearly 70 boats entered Oct. 17-19, at Hotel Palmas de Cortez.
Nov. 8: With perfect timing for the WON/Mercury Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot Tournament on Nov. 6-9, significant numbers of grande yellowfin tuna showed up at the tip of Baja California, with reports of many fish close to, or over 200 pounds, and one of 320 pounds. Most of the big tuna were found under porpoise, either south of the arch or on the Pacific side. At the Alto Golfo Biosphere Reserve, Mexican federal enforcement officials reached an agreement with local trawlers and pangas allowing them to resume fishing under new, more conservation-oriented rules.
At Cabo San Lucas, a daring midday armed robbery netted more than $100,000 of prize money from the Hotel Association's Los Cabos Billfish Tournament. The Hotel Association immediately replaced all funds, and all tournament prizes were awarded as scheduled at the Hotel Playa Grande on Saturday night.
Nov. 15: The 2002 Western Outdoor News/Mercury Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot Tournament, held at Cabo San Lucas on Nov. 6-9, was an enormous success in all categories with a record-breaking 156 teams entered, record free prizes and cash awards, and record big tuna caught. The top fish was a 256-pound tuna caught by Griselda. In all, $365,000 was won by the top four teams, and another $190,000 in free prizes was given away, including a Ford F-150 Super Cab truck and a mountain of free tackle prizes and free fishing trips. The average weight of the top ten yellowfin tuna caught was an amazing 188.6 pounds. A new Mexican record was set for the number of local boats chartered for any tournament. In a fantastic stroke of luck, a television crew from the Outdoor Channel happened to be aboard the Griselda when the winning fish was caught. The entire episode was caught on tape and scheduled for national broadcast on four occasions beginning in January.
Nov. 22: Western Outdoor News published a thick 28-page special section on the WON/Mercury Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot Tournament, full of color photos of the entire event and all the winners, including the honeymooners, Mike and Kathy Prida of Alpine, who won the Ford F-150 Super Cab pickup in a free drawing for all entrants that was triggered when a tuna over 220 pounds was caught. The Ford truck was sponsored by Burch Ford, El Cajon Ford, and Fairway Ford.
At Bahia Magdalena, the fall Thetis Bank fish pile-up was underway, with boats raising about 20 striped marlin per day into the patterns, it was reported by Gary Graham of Baja On The Fly.
Nov. 29: A good flurry of wahoo arrived at Los Cabos with boats averaging 2 to 6 fish on some days, in water temperatures of 78 to 80 degrees. At Mazatlan, the El Cid Mega Resort hosted its Eighth Annual Marina el Cid Billfish Classic, with 33 boats competing in a modified release format for cash prizes of up to $48,840 which was won by the winning boat, Kahuna, with 1,420 points.
Dec. 6: Longtime Baja sport fishing pioneer, Dick Wilkes, 83, passed away on Nov. 29 following a heart attack at his Pacific Palisades home. Wilkes was remembered by WON writer Bill Beebe as the organizer of early sport fishing tournaments in southern Baja during the 1960s. He began his career as a correspondent for Time-Life Publications in Los Angeles, and later managed the Hotel Solmar's international office headquarters in Pacific Palisades. At Guerrero Negro, the season's first migrating gray whales were observed at Scammon's Lagoon.
Dec. 13: The San Diego-based sportfisher, Champ, was declared a total loss after running aground just outside Bahia Magdalena. Nobody was injured in the incident, which occurred at night on a reef near Bahia Santa Maria as the Champ was being brought in to pick up passengers for the Camp & Champ trips organized by Mag Bay Tours based at Punta Hughes. The boat's captain, Mike Diamond, and a crewman were the only ones aboard at the time. At East Cape, a winter dorado bite on fish to over 50 pounds emerged at the shark buoys off Punta Pescadero in water temperatures averaging 74 degrees. At San Felipe, a free panga mothership fishing tournament was announced for the 2003 season, offering cash prizes up to $2,000 for the year's four largest yellowtail and four largest cabrilla caught. All four San Felipe motherships were participating in the tournament.
Dec. 20: A pre-holiday lull settled over Baja as few visitors were present in all locations and very few boats were fishing. WON Baja Editor Gene Kira reported on a shrimp gill netting run aboard a San Felipe commercial panga, where he observed less than 50% bycatch, much less than the larger trawlers. WON Editorial Director Pat McDonell's column explained some of the legalities and illegalities of commercial fishing operations observed at Bahia Magdalena, the Los Cabos offshore banks, and other locations around Baja California.
Dec. 27: The winter sierra bite opened up from East Cape to Cabo San Lucas, and at San Jose del Cabo, heavy near shore gill netting operations began, as water temperatures averaged about 75 degrees. At Bahia Magdalena, the mangrove channels had a wide-open corvina bite going on, and at Loreto, Pam Bolles of Baja Big Fish Company announced the seasonal closing of the fly shop for the winter.
(Related Baja California, Mexico, articles and reports may be found at Mexfish.com's main Baja California information page. See weekly fishing news, photos, and reports from the major sportfishing vacation areas of Mexico including the Baja California area in "Mexico Fishing News.")